Website last updated: 27-5-2023

Review of On His Majesty's Secret Service written by Charlie Higson

By: Brian Smith
Published:
2023-05-04
On His Majesty’s Secret Service, book, review
Charlie Higson returns to active service with a new novella, On His Majesty’s Secret Service. The story is a one-off to mark the occasion of the Coronation of King Charles III. Author, actor, comedian, and screenwriter Higson is famous around these parts for his Young Bond novels – SilverFin (2005), Blood Fever (2006), Double Or Die (2007), Hurricane Gold (2007) and By Royal Command (2008). He briefly wrote adult Bond into the end of Double Or Die, albeit a Fleming-timeline version of the character who visits Bletchley Park at the end of World War 2 and bumps into Alan Turing.

Warning: Contains mild spoilers

This story is set in the present day, beginning two days before the Coronation of King Charles III (i.e., day of publication, 4th May 2023) with Bond trying to work out who in the room is about to betray their monarch. The book then retraces the events that led Bond to this moment.

The ‘formula’ is present and correct. Bond is in his mid-Thirties; Moneypenny appears briefly and there is a meeting with M in the Regents Park headquarters. Bond replaces 009 who he found deathly dull (this 009 obviously didn’t clown around). 007’s licence to kill is very much intact, rubber-stamped by M. The scene is set for a fast-paced race against time as Bond attempts to thwart a pretender to the throne, Æthelstane of Wessex, who plans to conduct an audacious attack on British democracy and the monarchy. At one time this would have seemed far-fetched were it not for the Capitol riots in Washington on January 6th, 2021, following the defeat of US President Donald Trump.

It seems odd at first to see brands like Premier Inn and Travelodge being mentioned in a Bond novel, and yet these relate to exactly the types of observations Ian Fleming himself would have made. We forget that Fleming, too, was writing contemporary thrillers and would often comment on the world around him.

Higson weaves fact and fiction to create a compelling narrative. The villain of the piece aligns himself with Hungary’s far right prime minister Viktor Orban who uses the ‘crude but effective nationalist playbook.’ Discourse around topics such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine or Macron’s trouble with strikes (following the increase in pension age) lends the story its topical, and at times satirical, flavour. Bond’s thought process around issues such as diversity, immigration and the ‘hogwash’ drowning the internet, will only seem controversial to the very people Bond despises. It’s a clever approach and yet 007 is never out of character. This is recognisably Ian Fleming’s James Bond, put on ice, and resurrected for a 2023 adventure. Tonally, it sits comfortably alongside Kim Sherwood’s Double-0 series.

Bond’s previous knowledge of heraldry comes in handy. The villain’s lair is textbook Bond. There are similarities with Fleming’s own OHMSS (the 1963 James Bond novel On Her Majesty's Secret Service) as well as John Gardner’s Licence Renewed (1981). Higson mentions that Bond once visited Disneyland Paris to meet a contact, the location of another Royal storyline in Gardner’s Never Send Flowers (1993).

On His Majesty’s Secret Service includes a memorable villain with a mad yet plausible scheme, beautiful women, fast chases, fights and suspense. James Bond is back in action and Charlie has reclaimed the throne as the King of Bond.


Review by Brian Smith. Copyright © 2023 From Sweden with Love. All rights reserved.

Editor's Note:
Available editions of On His Majesty's Secret Service:

>Hardback edition (Amazon UK)
>Audiobook edition (Amazon UK)
>Hardback edition (Amazon.com)
>Kindle edition (Amazon.com)

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